The Constitution of 1808

Following the debates in the Secret State Conference of 20 April 1808, the text of the Constitution underwent a final revision. The editorial work resulted in the original document, which was kept in the royal archives as an unsealed vellum booklet in blue velvet binding. The document is signed by King Max I Joseph and bears the signatures of Montgelas, Morawitzky and Hompesch, the Ministers of State and Conference.

On the one side, the constitution laid down the essential reforms begun by the government under Max Joseph from 1799. On the other side, it formulated a political programme, which was further specified by Organic Edicts.

The state was at the centre of the programme. As long as it remained a “bloßes Aggregat verschiedenartiger Bestandtheile” (mere aggregate of various constituent parts), it could not achieve its political goals. “[J]edem Theile der Staatsgewalt” (Preamble) was an “angemessene Wirkungskraft nach den Bedürfnissen des Gesamt-Wohls zu verschaffen” (every part of the state authority was to be granted an appropriate effect according to the needs of the overall well-being). The constitution therefore regulated the position of the king and of the royal house (Tit. II) and it regulated the administrative structure (Tit. III) as well as the main features of the judicial and military constitution (Tit. V, Tit. VI). Title IV specified details of the “National-Repräsentation” (national parliament), which however was never to gather.

The “Hauptbestimmungen” (Tit. I), i.e. the main provisions, included the abolition of special rights, the abolition of serfdom, the division of the kingdom into districts, basic privileges of the nobility and the rights of religious communities. Finally, the state “granted” rights that should be of considerable importance in the emerging bourgeois society of owners: the security of person and property, complete freedom of conscience and freedom of the press.

To the digitised copy